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Bearing Witness, A Tweet At A Time

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   December 13, 2010    6:34 AM ET

Online, using social media, we can become each others' witnesses.

Take Eric Sheptock, a former crack addict and now homeless advocate who is the subject of a remarkable story in today's Washington Post, written by Nathan Rott. It's one of the most insightful and nuanced articles written about social media this year -- a must-read for anyone who questions the value of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

On Twitter, everyone is their own news channel, their own personally written and publicly shared newspaper. Which makes me wonder: do you follow people on Twitter whose lives -- whose fundamental set of realities -- are completely different than your own? Or have you created a digital echo chamber, following people who already share your interests and already think the way you do?

The Social Disconnect -- How Hollywood Misread Facebook

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   October 1, 2010    2:00 PM ET

Everything that's wrong about The Social Network is summed up by its title.

The movie, opening nationwide today, is not interested in the concept of social networking or the actual usage of Facebook. Aaron Sorkin, the film's writer, told me in my profile of Mark Zuckerberg for the New Yorker: "I've heard of Facebook, in the same way I've heard of a carburetor. But if I opened the hood of my car I wouldn't know how to find it." It's a movie full of fictionalized scenes and Sorkin's trademark rat-a-tat dialogue that -- save for one eerie, almost ripped-from-the-headlines exchange (more on that later) -- say little about our online lives beyond the perfunctory "Facebook-is-addicting" and "we're-sharing-too-much-information."

And it's a movie that, at its core, stands on one glaring false premise: Zuckerberg as a flat-eyed, borderline autistic, humorless guy, a consummate outsider who wanted badly to get into one of Harvard's "final" clubs, his considerable coding skills reduced to social awkwardness. In other words, the geek as the "other." The lonely nerd, sitting alone in front of his computer, seeking connection. The friendless Zuckerberg creating Facebook to make friends and get a girl. There's something that feels quite dated and very 1990s about all of this, like the filmmakers never bothered to meet some of the geeksters -- geeks and hipsters -- at Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc. who fuel the social media renaissance in Silicon Valley. Zuckerberg is presented as an alien from a faraway computer programming space, instead of a leading member of an entrepreneurial generation who's grown up with the Internet and now tops Vanity Fair's ranking of the New Establishment, ahead of Steve Jobs, the Google guys and Rupert Murdoch. In the film, Zuckerberg's character lacks context. He just is.

Zuckerberg, mind you, is no saint. A string of instant messages he sent while he was in college has been embarrassing and damaging to his reputation. On the whole, his views on privacy and his goal of making the world "a more open place" push way too many buttons to count. But Hollywood's stereotypical portrait of the introverted uber-geek has already gotten some in the tech community -- even those critical of Zuckerberg -- all riled up.

Anil Dash, the blogging pioneer and frequent critic of the Facebook CEO, told me: "The movie is written in the abstract, based on what they feel Facebook, and the social Web, represent. It's exoticism. It's the 1940s, when you had a white actor in yellow-face play a Chinese character, you know? Those foreigners talk like this, and it's why they're inscrutable and evil."

Added Jeff Jarvis, a long-time chronicler of new media and author of What Would Google Do?: "This is all about snobbery, about dismissing all this Internet stuff. The filmmakers didn't give any value to what Zuckerberg made. How can they say that they understand him if they don't understand his creation? It's dismissive of the 500 million or so people who are on Facebook. It's intellectually lazy. It's insulting."

Neither Sorkin nor Ben Mezrich (whose unauthorized book The Accidental Billionaires inspired the film) had access to Zuckerberg. And as one of the few journalists who's interviewed Zuckerberg numerous times and is familiar with the history of Facebook's early founding and continued growth, seeing the movie is a jarring, disorienting experience. How much reality can one expect from Hollywood? Not much, of course. For one, Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Zuckerberg is far from the actual Zuckerberg. At any point during the two-hour movie, I can't recall seeing Eisenberg's Zuckerberg crack a big smile or display any outward emotion. Eisenberg's Zuckerberg is on autopilot. He's not evil, per se, but driven -- driven towards what, we're not sure. The filmmakers have absolutely no idea. The real Zuckerberg, on the other hand, has a much more varied personality. Though naturally shy and inherently a private person, he's a noted prankster among his family and friends and, at any given moment, can easily turn serious or comical. Insecure is not a word anyone would use to describe him. Friendless, he is not. He is driven towards creating and dominating a new kind of Internet based on our identities and relationships.

To be fair, The Social Network has never pretended to be a documentary. It's got a story to sell and sticks to it, and that translates to sensationalized scenes of drugs and sex and made-up and heightened friendships and allegiances. Though Zuckerberg is the film's center, its heart belongs to Eduardo Saverin. In the film, Saverin is Zuckerberg's best friend who ends up suing him; furthermore, Saverin's acceptance to a final club that Zuckerberg couldn't get into hangs like a cloud. In real life, Saverin was less a friend of Zuckerberg and more a business partner. But this being a Hollywood movie (and since Saverin provided Mezrich, and in turn, Sorkin, with much of their material), the narrative arc of a betrayed best friend is a much juicier, more tragic Greek story. "Creation myths need a devil," one of the characters in the film tells the Facebook CEO. In some ways, the use of Zuckerberg and Facebook feel almost incidental, as if they're nothing but timely, movable props simply designed to lure viewers in and ride the social networking wave. Never mind that viewers will leave theaters with an inaccurate history of Facebook or a one-sided view of Zuckerberg. The movie is the thing. As Sorkin told Mark Harris in New York magazine: "I don't want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling."

Because whatever else The Social Network is -- a darkly (and darkly-lit) movie, well-acted throughout (kudos to dynamic Justin Timberlake), at times fun, witty and entertaining (the mere mention of the Facebook "wall" drew snickers from the audience) -- the film represents the biggest culmination yet of old media's disdain and misreading of new media. Its title notwithstanding, it's a movie about social networking born out of a fundamental disconnect.

It's no surprise, then, that The Social Network turns out to be a simplistic take on a complex character masquerading as an important film. I saw the movie at a Thursday midnight screening surrounded by an almost packed house of mostly college-age students. They've been using Facebook for most of their high school and college lives; Zuckerberg is a curiosity and, to some I spoke to, an inspiration. To be 26 and a billionaire and the CEO of Facebook -- well, what have you done?

As the movie ended and the credits rolled, I kept trying to figure out what Peter Travers of Rolling Stone meant when -- in a rave review that's been followed by other rave reviews -- he dubbed the film "the movie of the year" that also defines "the dark irony of the past decade." Which decade? Defined by whom? By those who don't use Facebook and social media and deride it as a waste of time and energy, as nothing but narcissism and vanity gone amok?

Facebook is many things to many people -- you make it what it is -- but it's a way for users to present themselves and manage their relationships with other people. It's a bar, a church, a town hall, a borderless, multilingual country -- with all the requisite social complications. Of course it feeds the ego. You won't get more birthday wishes than on Facebook, for example. And there's always something intrinsically theatrical about it, like watching a reality TV show knowing that the very presence of a camera alters the definition of "reality."

It's not merely superficium, not all trivial, however. While riding a cab in Washington, D.C. recently, a 37-year-old Ethiopian driver named Berhanu Bekele got visibly emotional when describing how he was able to find long-lost friends on Facebook whom he had lost touch with during Eriterean-Ethipioan War in the late 1990s. He's found two while typing their names on Facebook's search box -- one is in Lebanon, he says -- and hopes to find more. "The world is getting smaller, you know," Bekele told me. When it comes to social activism and organizing, Facebook can be used for good or bad, its users ultimately driving its meaning.

The truth is, Facebook is as much a creature of the showboat Andy Warhol -- everyone gets more than their share of 15 of minutes fame -- as it is of the humanist E.M. Forster: "Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die."

I'm a digital native, a part of the "millennial" generation who, like Zuckerberg, has grown up with Google, Wikipedia and AOL Instant Messenger -- instant, immediate connection, where every private citizen has an online identity. I don't have a utopian or dystopian view of the Internet; it's just a reality I personally am still adjusting to. To others like me, what happens online translates offline; increasingly, there's a fluidity between our online and offline identities. As I walked out of the theater at 2:30 a.m Friday, I was reminded of one moment in the movie. It's a made-up scene between Zuckerberg and his ex-girlfriend Erica, who becomes a victim of Zuckerberg's drive-by-blogging -- he calls her a "bitch" and posts her bra size for the online world to see. The confrontation between the two would have been much more effective without Zuckerberg being told that he writes from "a dark room" because he's a "failure at human contact." The heavy-handedness aside, the ugly consequences of violating someone's privacy easily speaks for itself.

The scene reminded me of the truly tragic story of Tyler Clementi, the 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University who took his own life after his roommate, 18-year-old Dharum Ravi, recorded his private sexual encounter with another man and shared it online, via Twitter and iChat. Before he jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River, he signed onto his Facebook account and wrote "sorry." A Facebook group memorializing his death, created after the news broke on Wednesday, has some 75,000 members.

Social networking -- a flattening online world built on people and their real identities -- is here to stay, and it's not just about Facebook. At a time when we need to have deeper, more serious conversations across the country -- especially in middle schools, high schools and colleges -- about the irrevocable impact of social networking in our lives, we have a movie that purports to be about social networking but ultimately proves to be a mostly fleeting distraction. See it; you probably will. Just don't expect any real insight about our evolving online reality, or about the 26-year-old CEO that's helping shape it.

Then again, The Social Network is a Hollywood movie about a topic that Hollywood fails to understand.

What's the Future of the Journalist in Our Digital Era? (VIDEOS)

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   June 25, 2010    1:50 PM ET

Exactly how has technology changed the journalist's role?

The question has nagged me since the latest Future of News and Civic Media conference in Cambridge, hosted by MIT and the Knight Foundation. The three-day confab drew a curious hodgepodge of technologists, academics, foundation and non-profit folks, with a smattering of so-called traditional, mainstream journalists -- "refugees," they called -- many of whom have left their traditional, mainstream jobs. But what they lacked in common in terms of resumes they more than made up in what they shared: a passion for remaking the news for 21st century.

Altogether, the crowd applauded the 12 winners of the foundation's Knight News Challenge (KNC), an ambitious, generous contest (this year's grantees received a total sum of $2.74 million) that awards innovative journalism projects. It's no coincidence, perhaps, that many of the projects were not created by traditional journalists. The bios of the winners read software engineers, entrepreneurs, video game designers, documentary filmmakers, among others, and their projects push our idea of journalism. They serve as a guide for the future.

We live in an increasingly visual, data-driven world, where content easily spreads online, all meant to be shared. That's the thinking behind CityTracking, created by Eric Rodenbeck, the founder and creative director of Stamen, a mapping and data visualization studio. The aim of the project, Rodenbeck said, is "to make municipal data" -- like crime -- "easy to understand."

And digital news consumers don't want to just read data, they want to interact with it, too. Enter The Cartoonist, developed by noted video game designers and analysts Ian Bogost and Michael Mateas. Their project will develop a free tool that creates interactive, cartoon-like, current event games, "the equivalent of editorial cartoons." For years now, games have been integrated in education, the military and of course entertainment. It's time journalism gets in the mix.

The popularity and ubiquity of Wikipedia proves that, yes, anyone can be an editor, anyone can have a voice. And that's the underlying theme behind two KNC-winning projects. There's Local Wiki, created by software engineers Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov, which is an expansion of the successful, a crowd-sourcing bulletin for residents of Davis, Calif. There's also Front Porch Forum, a virtual town hall space that connects residents to each other. The brainchild of Vermont resident Michael Wood-Lewis, the forum covers 25 Vermont towns. That number will go up to 250 because of the KNC grant.

What's clear in reviewing the winning projects is technology's core role in redefining journalism for the digital era. KNC enters its fifth and final year of handing out these grants, which have awarded some $23 million to to 50 projects.

What hasn't been so clear, at least to me, is the role that traditional journalists themselves -- the ones still employed in newspaper, magazine, TV and radio newsrooms across the country -- must play as technologies further evolve and the reporter's toolbox deepens and broadens. It's not just about having a Twitter feed and finding sources on Facebook and YouTube. It's about fundamentally understanding how the news ecosystem has changed. You, the reporter, don't know everything. You, the reporter, are accountable to your readers, who now can publicly question your reporting and writing. You, the reporter, must think about getting the news out, reporting stories and interacting with active digital news consumers in multi-dimensional ways.

How can social media and crowd-sourcing be leveraged in political reporting, so the journalism becomes less about horse-race coverage, the simplistic GOP-said-this-and-the-Dems-said-that kind of writing, the theater of politics?

How can beat reporters covering education use mobile technology -- one of the primary ways that parents and their teenage age communicate -- in writing about local school boards?

How can local news sites take their lead from LocalWiki and Front Porch Forum, to cite just two, and start thinking of their sites as conversation and idea hubs?

At a time in which all a journalist needs is a laptop, an Internet connection and editing software to report and publish work, what's the role of a newsroom? Or layers and layers of editors to vet what reporters are writing and publishing?

I've said this before and I will keep saying it: I cannot think of a more exciting time to a be journalist, and I cannot think of better time to be good at what I do. This is a golden age for journalism, a time for experimentation, entrepreneurship and creativity. Individual journalists must take full advantage of it. After all, the future of news is inexorably linked -- married, even -- to the future of the journalist.

Redefining journalism for the digital era is both a problem and an opportunity. "This problem cannot be solved by the newsroom alone," said Jay Rosen, the noted press critic who's professor at New York University. He's been a strong proponent of citizen journalism. "But it can't be solved without newsroom people, and their intelligence."

Addeds Alberto Ibarguen, the foundation's president and CEO who was formerly the publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald: "What we're talking about here is the evolution of storytelling. There was storytelling before there was writing. It's a skill, a necessity, that endures, no matter which medium is being used."

Using new technologies, the journalist must tell stories in interactive, relevant, compelling ways.

NOTE: I served as one of over 30 judges for this year's KNC contest. In the coming weeks, we'll feature blogs from past and current KNC winners, explaining the vision behind their projects and what they mean for the future of journalism -- and the journalist.

Courtesy of KNC, below is a video slideshow of this year's winners explaining the goal of their projects.

The Future of News: The "Me" in "Media"

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   June 16, 2010    3:56 PM ET


CAMBRIDGE, MASS. -- The future of news. The future of civic education. The future of citizens as engaged, educated participants. Lofty topics all of them, essential to maintaining democracy.

And technology -- technology being as mainstream and accessible as it's ever been -- plays a central role in how the media evolves. More specifically, how technology empowers the "me" in "media."

That's the underlying theme shared by the winners of the Knight Foundation's Knight News Challenge (KNC), which this year awarded $2.74 million to 12 projects. Altogether, the selected winners -- drawn from a pool of 2,300 applicants -- effectively leverage the emerging themes of today's evolving media ecosystem. Give people more data. "And make them legible -- legible meaning they're beautiful, interesting and accessible," KNC winner Eric Rodenbeck of CityTracking said. Study the use of social networks in institutions such as the military, which is the goal of KNC winner One-Eight. Collaboration is key, especially in local news sites, as the folks at Local Wiki, another KNC winner, has continually learned. And make news fun and interactive, said Ian Bogost, the brain behind the KNC winner The Cartoonist. (It must be noted that Wikileaks, the headline-grabbing, social media-driven, whistle-blower site, was conspicuously left out of the winning list. It was a finalist.)

Fittingly, the KNC winners were announced at MIT's Future of News and Civic Media confab, a three-day affair here in Cambridge that brings together technologists, journalists and media experts, among others. (You can follow the conference at Twitter hashtag #FNCM.)

This is KNC's fourth year, and so far the contest has attracted 10,000 applications and funded 50 projects for $23 million. As it enters its fifth and last year, the contest is committed to "providing communities with the free flow of information that those communities need to function in a democracy," said Alberto Ibarguen, the foundation's president and CEO, who introduced this year's winners. When the program started four years ago, Ibarguen, formerly the publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, said he and his staff raised many questions. How will journalism and journalists evolve? What's the role of the Internet? Of Wikipedia and Google? Of the blogosphere?

"What we actually knew," Ibarguen admitted, "is that we didn't know where we were going."

This year's slate of winners provides a very useful (and quite inspiring) guide.

Full list of winners and their descriptions are below. (Disclosure: I served as one of over 30 judges for this year's contest.)

2010 Knight News Challenge Winners

**Project Descriptions, Bios and Contact Information***


Award: $400,000
Winner: Eric Rodenbeck, Stamen Design
Web URL:;
Twitter: @stamen
Location: San Francisco, Calif.
Summary: To make municipal data easy to understand, CityTracking will allow users to create embeddable data visualizations that are appealing enough to spread virally and that are as easy to share as photos and videos. The dynamic interfaces will be appropriate to each data type, starting with crime and working through 311 calls for service, among others. The creators will use high design standards, making the visuals beautiful as well as useful.

Bio: Eric Rodenbeck is the founder and creative director of Stamen, a leading mapping and data visualization design studio based in San Francisco. Recent Stamen projects for the London 2012 Olympics, MSNBC and the City of San Francisco push the boundaries of online cartography and design. In addition, the studio's contribution to open-source mapping projects are helping to make possible a bottom-up revolution in how maps and data visualization are made and consumed. Rodenbeck led the interactive storytelling and data-driven narrative effort at Quokka Sports, illustrated and designed at Wired magazine and Wired Books, and was a co-founder of the design collective Umwow. His work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. Rodenbeck received a bachelor's in the history and philosophy of technology from The New School for Social Research in 1994. In 2008, he was named one of Esquire magazine's "Best and Brightest" new designers and thinkers, and one of ID Magazine's top 40 designers to watch. He is on the board of directors of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation.

The Cartoonist

Award: $378,000
Winner: Ian Bogost and Michael Mateas
Web URL:
Twitter: @ibogost
Location: Atlanta, Ga.
Summary: To engage readers in the news, this project will create a free tool that produces cartoon-like current event games - the game equivalent of editorial cartoons. The simplified tools will be created with busy journalists and editors in mind, people who have the pulse of their community but don't have a background in game development. By answering a series of questions about the major actors in a news event and making value judgments about their actions, The Cartoonist will automatically propose game rules and images. The games aim to help the sites draw readers and inspire them to explore the news.

Bio: Ian Bogost, a videogame designer, critic and researcher, is associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founding partner at Persuasive Games. His research and writing considers videogames as an expressive medium, and his creative practice focuses on political and art games. Bogost is the author of Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism, of Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, co-author of Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System and co-author of the forthcoming Newsgames: Journalism at Play. Bogost's videogames cover topics as varied as airport security, disaffected workers, the petroleum industry, suburban errands and tort reform. His games have been played by millions of people and exhibited internationally.

Michael Mateas is an authority on artificial intelligence for games and interactive entertainment. His research group at the University of California, Santa Cruz, The Expressive Intelligence Studio, is one of the largest technical game research groups in the world. He holds the MacArthur Endowed Chair and helped create the first game design program in the University of California system. With Andrew Stern, he created the award-winning Facade, the first artificial intelligence-based interactive drama.

Local Wiki

Award: $350,000
Winner: Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov
Web URL:
Twitter: @philipn; @mivanov
Location: San Francisco, Calif.
Summary: Based on the successful in Davis, Calif., this project will create enhanced tools for local wikis, a new form of media that makes it easy for people to learn - and share - their own unique community knowledge. Members will be able to post articles about anything they like, edit others and upload photos and files. This grant will help create the specialized open-source software that makes the wiki possible and help communities develop, launch and sustain local wiki projects.

Bio: Philip Neustrom is a software engineer in the San Francisco Bay area. He co-founded in 2004. For the past several years he has worked on a variety of nonprofit efforts to engage everyday citizens. He oversaw the development of the popular, the world's largest coordinated video documentation project, and was the lead developer at Citizen Engagement Laboratory, a nonprofit focused on empowering traditionally underrepresented constituencies. He is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with a bachelor's in mathematics.

Mike Ivanov is a software engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area. He co-founded in 2004. He, along with Philip Neustrom, was awarded the Excellence in Community Involvement Award by the City of Davis for his work on the DavisWiki, an honor usually reserved for traditional local media formats such as radio and television. He is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with a bachelor's in mathematics.

WindyCitizen's Real Time Ads

Award: $250,000
Winner: Brad Flora,
Web URL:
Twitter: @bradflora
Location: Chicago, Ill.
Summary: As a way to help online startups become sustainable, this project will develop an improved software interface to help sites create and sell what are known as "real-time ads." These ads are designed to be engaging as they constantly change - showing the latest message or post from the advertiser's Twitter account, Facebook page or blog. Challenge winner Brad Flora helped pioneer the idea on his Chicago news site,

Bio: Brad Flora is a journalist and entrepreneur in Chicago. He is the founder and president of, which gives Chicagoans a place to share, rate and discuss their favorite local stories, events and deals. His work has appeared in Slate magazine and Chicago-area newspapers. He was a 2008 Carnegie-Knight News 21 Fellow and is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

GoMap Riga

Award: $250,000
Winner: Marcis Rubenis and Kristofs Blaus, GoMap Riga
Web URL:;
Twitter: @kristofsblaus; @MarcisRubenis
Location: Riga, Latvia
Summary: To inspire people to get involved in their community, this project will create a live, online map with local news and activities. GoMap Riga will pull some content from the Web and place it automatically on the map. Residents will be able to add their own news, pictures and videos while discussing what is happening around them. GoMap Riga will be integrated with the major existing social networks and allow civic participation through mobile technology. The project will be tested in Riga, Latvia, and ultimately be applicable in other cities.

Bio: Marcis Rubenis is a social entrepreneur in Riga, Latvia. In 2006, he initiated the first non-governmental organization (NGO) network in Riga, to foster greater transparency, sustainability and public participation in large-scale development plans in the capital. Rubenis is a multiple business competition award winner, including garnering second place in the biggest international student team business competition in Europe in 2006. Rubenis is also the founder of the crowdsourcing organization, "House of Ideas," and the co-founder of the event format, idejuTalka (ideaCamp), which uses crowdsourcing to fuel grassroots solutions for business and society. Rubenis studies economics at the University of Latvia and is researching how crowdsourcing, open source and similar models of social organization can benefit real-world communities and businesses.

Kristofs Blaus is a European entrepreneur managing various innovative businesses in the Baltics. Since 2007, he has successfully worked with teaching-aid software for mobile phones, advanced marketing solutions, payment systems and delivering advanced IT services. Blaus, the winner of various business competitions in Latvia, is founder and CEO of Education Mobile Ltd., Technology Mobile Ltd. and Politics Mobile Ltd., and founder of the Society Technologies Foundation. He has lectured and presented to young entrepreneurs, teachers, young leaders and business students across the Baltic region.

Order in the Court 2.0

Award: $250,000
Winner: John Davidow, WBUR
Web URL:
Twitter: @johndavidow
Location: Boston, Mass.
Summary: To foster greater access to the judicial process, this project will create a laboratory in a Boston courtroom to help establish best practices for digital coverage that can be replicated and adopted throughout the nation. While the legislative and executive branches have incorporated new technologies and social media, the courts still operate under the video and audio recording standards established in the 1970s and '80s. The courtroom will have a designated area for live blogging via a Wi-Fi network and the ability to live-stream court proceedings to the public. Working in conjunction with the Massachusetts court system, the project will publish the daily docket on the Web and build a knowledge wiki for the public with common legal terms.

Bio: John Davidow was named WBUR's executive editor of new media in July of 2009, where he has overseen the growth of the award-winning Davidow joined WBUR as news director/managing editor in 2003 after spending more than two decades as a journalist in Boston. Davidow's work has been recognized with regional awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Associated Press and UPI. He has also recieved a number of regional Emmy Awards. Davidow graduated cum laude from Tufts University with a bachelor's in economics.

Front Porch Forum

Award: $220,000
Winner: Michael Wood-Lewis, Front Porch Forum
Web URL:
Twitter: @MichaelFPF
Location: Burlington, Vt.
Summary: To help residents connect with others and their community, this grant will help rebuild and enhance a successful community news site, expand it to more towns and release the software so other organizations, anywhere can use it. The Front Porch Forum, a virtual town hall space, helps residents share and discuss local news, build community and increase engagement. The site, currently serving 25 Vermont towns, will expand to 250.

Bio: Michael Wood-Lewis has been pulling neighbors together into community since his Indiana childhood spent organizing ball games and visiting neighbors on his evening paper route. Decades later, he founded Front Porch Forum, which hosts a pilot network of 140 online neighborhood forums that blankets 25 northwest Vermont towns. More than 18,000 households subscribe to Front Porch Forum. The resulting news sharing and community building is attracting recognition from PBS MediaShift, the Vermont legislature, the Rural Telecom Congress and the Case and Orton Family Foundations. Previously, he led an innovative trade association of New England utilities. Earlier, he guided a Washington, D.C.-based consortium of U.S. municipal leaders in developing environmental technologies, building on his experience as an inventor of high-tech recycling equipment. He earned a master's in engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as well as an MBA.


Award: $202,000
Winner: Teru Kuwayama
Web URL:
Twitter: @terukuwayama
Location: Chicago, Ill.
Summary: Broadening the perspectives that surround U.S . military operations in Afghani-
stan, this project will chronicle a battalion by combining reporting from embedded journalists with user-generated content from the Marines themselves . The troops and their families will be key audiences for the online journal steering, challenging and augmenting the coverage with their feedback . The approach will directly serve the stakeholders and inform the wider public by bringing in on-the-ground views on military issues and the execution of U .S . foreign policy. The troops were recently authorized to use social media while deployed, and this project will also study the impact of that decision on the military.

Bio: Teru Kuwayama is a photographer who has spent most of the past decade reporting on conflict and humanitarian crisis. He has reported in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir and Iraq - traveling both independently and as an embedded reporter with military forces. His photographs have appeared in publications including Time, Newsweek, Outside and National Geographic. Kuwayama is the co-founder of, a Web-based network of media, military, aid and development personnel serving more than 40,000 members. He is currently a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford University. Kuwayama received a bachelor's degree from the State University of New York at Albany.


Award: $200,000
Winner: Nonny de la Pena and Tom Grasty, Stroome
Web URL:
Twitter: @nonnydlp; @stroome
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
Summary: To simplify the production of news video, Stroome will create a virtual video-editing studio. There, correspondents, editors and producers will be able to upload and share content, edit and remix with friends and colleagues - all without using expensive satellite truck technology. The site will launch as eyewitness video - often captured by mobile phones or webcams - is becoming a key component of news coverage, generating demand for supporting tools.

Bio: Recently named an "Innovator to Watch" by the University of Southern California's (USC) Stevens Institute for Innovation, Tom Grasty is an entrepreneurial digital and media strategist with a diverse, 15-year background across the entertainment, advertising, public relations and Internet industries. Most recently, Grasty was head of creative development at Blaze Television, where he was responsible for the company's digital media operations. Grasty has a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a master's from USC's pioneering program in online communities.

Nonny de la Pena is a senior research fellow in immersive journalism at the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. At USC, she is pushing boundaries for entrepreneurial and technologically innovative journalistic endeavors. A graduate of Harvard University, she is an award-winning documentary filmmaker with 20 years of journalism experience, including as a correspondent for Newsweek magazine and as a writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Premiere magazine and others. Her films have screened on national television and at theaters in more than 50 cities around the globe, garnering praise from critics like The New York Times' A.O. Scott, who called her work "a brave and necessary act of truth-telling."


Award: $90,000
Winner: Retha Hill and Cody Shotwell, Arizona State University
Web URL:;
Twitter: @codyshotwell; @rethahill
Location: Phoenix, Ariz.
Summary: To inform and engage communities, CitySeed will be a mobile application that allows users to plant the "seed" of an idea and share it with others. For example, a person might come across a great spot for a community garden. At that moment, the person can use the CitySeed app to "geotag" the idea, which links it to an exact location. Others can look at the place-based ideas, debate and hopefully act on them. The project aims to increase the number of people informed about and engaged with their communities by breaking down community issues into bite-size settings.

Bio: Retha Hill is the director of the New Media Innovation Lab and professor of practice at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The innovative laboratory conducts research and development for the media industry. She joined the Cronkite School in fall 2007. Previously, Hill was vice president for content development for BET Interactive, where she was the executive in charge of content strategy, convergence and integration with the BET Network. She worked for The Washington Post Company in a variety of capacities, including as a reporter and a founding editor of Hill also is the owner of Painted Desert Media, LLC, a Phoenix-based media consulting company.

Cody Shotwell has lived in downtown Phoenix since 2008. A fresh graduate of the Masters of Mass Communication program at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Seattle-area native keeps his fingers on the pulse of the journalism community through his day job as Web coordinator at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

PRX StoryMarket

Award: $75,000
Winner: Jake Shapiro, PRX
Web URL:
Twitter: @jakeshapiro
Location: Boston, Mass.
Summary: Building on the software created by 2008 challenge winner, this project will allow anyone to pitch and help pay to produce a story for a local public radio station. When the amount is raised (in small contributions), the station will hire a professional journalist to do the report. The project provides a new way for public radio stations to raise money, produce more local content and engage listeners.

Bio: Jake Shapiro is CEO of PRX, The Public Radio Exchange, an online marketplace connecting stations, producers and the public. Since its launch in 2003, PRX has been a leading innovator in public media, pioneering new digital distribution models and social media applications. In 2008, PRX received the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Prior to joining PRX, Shapiro was associate director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, where he remains on the Fellows Advisory Board. Shapiro is also an independent musician and has recorded and performed on guitar and cello with numerous groups, most frequently with original rock band Two Ton Shoe.


Award: $74,000
Winner: Eric Gundersen, Development Seed
Web URL:
Twitter: @ericg
Location: Washington, D.C.
Summary: To inspire residents to learn about local issues, Tilemapping will help local media create hyper-local, data-filled maps for their websites and blogs. Journalists will be able to tell more textured stories, while residents will be able to draw connections to their physical communities in new ways. The tools will be tested in Washington, D.C. Ushahidi, a 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, used a prototype after the earthquake in Haiti to create maps used to crowdsource reports on places needing aid.

Bio: Eric Gundersen is the president and co-founder of Development Seed. Over the past seven years, Gundersen has developed communications strategies and tools for some of the largest international development organizations in the world, in addition to working with U.S.-based public health and education organizations. He is especially interested in improving information flows within large organizations and visualizing information in actionable ways.

Gundersen, a 2009 winner of the Federal 100 award for his contributions to government technology, earned his master's in international development from American University in Washington, D.C., and has dual bachelor's degrees in economics and international relations. He co-founded Development Seed while researching technology access and microfinance in Peru. Before starting Development Seed, Gundersen was a journalist in Washington, D.C. writing on the environment and national security.

PdF 2010 LIVE BLOG: The State of Tech-Powered Politics

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   June 3, 2010    7:48 AM ET

FRI, JUNE 4, 4:11 P.M.

Forget the Internet. For the post-email, AIM-oriented, text messaging-driven generation of the American electorate, the future of politics -- how voters interact with politicians, elected officials and their government -- is right in their pockets. Scott Goodstein, the Obama campaign's texting guru, writes in his blog for HuffPost Tech:

Mobile technology, while still in its infancy, has gone from simply distributing horoscopes and ring tones to helping political and social justice movements quickly alert and even engage millions of people faster and in ways never before possible in the matter of a few short years.

Goodstein cites a must-read (and must-share) report by Pew Research, released less than two months ago. The report found that...

...Some 75% of 12-17 year-olds now own cell phones, up from 45% in 2004. Those phones have become indispensable tools in teen communication patterns. Fully 72% of all teens2 -- or 88% of teen cell phone users -- are text-messagers. That is a sharp rise from the 51% of teens who were texters in 2006. More than half of teens (54%) are daily texters...

Is there any other device that's with you constantly other than your phone? What does the rise of mobile technology mean for your relationship with politics -- and, just as important, with governance? What kind of mobile apps are being created to make politics more transparent, more accountable?

FRI, JUNE 4, 12:40 P.M.

The evolution of technology, especially in the Web 2.0 and mobile spheres, forces all of us to rethink our views of many issues, topics and institutions.

Including the media. In his talk called "Rethinking the Media," Markos Moulitsas -- the Kos of Daily Kos -- said that the growth of one of most vibrant and engaging political blogs underscores the redefinition of the media here in America. As Daily Kos proves at any given moment, media is "participatory and collaborative," Kos said, "where no one voice dictates the truth."

The Daily Kos is 8 years old. That's 56 in dog years, Kos joked, and 2,000 in Internet years. The community blog cemented its reputation during the early Bush era when it aggressively and strongly opposed and questioned the run-up to the Iraq war, filling in a void in the mainstream media. Little to zero cost of technologies -- grabbing a domain name, setting up a site -- lowered the barrier to entry. Anti-war Americans of all backgrounds (lawyers, housewives, engineers, etc.) connected on the site, setting up their own diaries.

And the fact that what began as a blog created one man has become a big news site with some 200,000 users -- "a small city," as PdF co-founder Micah Sifry calls it -- is all the more impressive given the cost-cutting that's underway in major news organizations. Bloggers who were once shunned by mainstream news sites are now hiring them, the most recent example being Nate Silver, who was an Daily Kos diarist. "I'm a proud papa," Kos said.

Daily Kos has also invested heavily in polling -- "in 2008 and 2009, Daily Kos commissioned more polling than any site," he said -- and is currently beta-testing its new re-design.

On Daily Kos, news is community, which has paved a way for the future of media and the way we rethink it.

FRI, JUNE 4, 10:30 A.M.

Last year, the country's first chief information officer, Vivek Kundra, addressed the crowd at PdF 2009 and announced an ambitious new project: a Web site that tracks more than $70 billion in government information technology spending. shows all contracts held by major firms in every federal agency.

Earlier this morning, the country's first chief technology officer, Aneesh Chopra, underscored what he called the "government's deep commitment to openness and transparency." Thankfully for Chopra, no one in the tech-savvy, bipartisan group jeered. In general, his 30-minute talk was greeted warmly int he Twittersphere, not exactly the friendliest place. Especially for a high-ranking federal official.

"Great preso by Aneesh Chopra, CTO of US, at Personal Democracy Forum. Making data available and driving a startup mindset," read one tweet."

Another read: "Aneesh Chopra: very inspiring talk! Finally one conversation on which Libs and Dems can come together!"

In an interview with HuffPost Tech, Chopra told us that, on a scale of 1 to 10 of where the federal government ought to be in updating its technology infrastructure, the Obama administration is at a 3. "I speak with humility, and I'm hopeful for the future," Chopra said.

Chopra continued: "The truth is, we're just getting started with cloud computing, with mobility, with text messaging alerts and pushing data out to the American people."

THURS, JUNE 3, 5:42 P.M.

Yes, the Internet -- the people who use the Internet -- can help fix politics. It is happening in small, sure steps, as Craig Newmark highlighted in his blog. But try as the online masses does to change the system, the dominant worldview, how we talk about politics and how politics is covered, remains unchanged.

As Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake argues:

Not to be overly melodramatic, but at the moment, it's becoming more and more apparent that corporate America and political elites of both parties are locked in an embrace that threatens to scuttle the world economy, the environment and our system of representative democracy.

And we don't even have a language to talk about it. We measure every political debate along a right-left axis, with rhetoric left over from the culture wars of the 90s. But in doing so, we're firing past the true villains -- the Masters of the Universe who skillfully manipulate tribal prejudices to insure that it is their interests, and not those of the public, that are the ones always being served.

THURS, JUNE 3, 3:32 P.M.

If the 2006 mid-terms, the 2008 presidential election and nearing 2010 midterms have anything in common, it's the anti-incumbent, change-oriented mood of the electorate, Mindy Finn, a veteran GOP online strategist, told us. The running theme of the past election cycles, Finn pointed out, is the rise of the frustrated, tech-powered electorate -- the anti-Iraq war activists on the left and the anti-government Tea Partiers on the right.

The anger is bi-partisan.

"When will the institutions -- the Congress, the mainstream media -- get that?" Finn asked us.

THURS, JUNE 3, 2:38 P.M.

During and after PdF 2010, HuffPost Tech will post exclusive blogs from online political thinkers as they struggle and explore the theme of this year's confab: Can the Internet fix politics?

Andrew Keen, the self-described "Anti Christ of Silicon Valley" and author of the controversial book "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture," takes an interesting and controversial view. In authoritarian regimes such as Iran and China, the social Web is a democratizing, liberating force, Keen concedes. But here in America, he writes:

...the unmediated Internet, with its tendency toward mob rule, is undermining the legitimacy of representative democracy and replacing it with the dangerous pipedream of a pure democracy. It's the Anti Federalists 2.0. And in today's vertiginous economic and cultural environment, I'm afraid, these new Anti-Feds might win.

Do you agree?

THURS, JUNE 3, 12:05 P.M.

Anais Nin must have seen this coming eons ago, before the rise of Google, Facebook and Twitter: "We don't see things as they are. We see things as we are."

Eli Pariser, the former MoveOn executive director, stepped onto the auditorium here at CUNY Graduate Center and addressed that very issue, touching on the how personalization filters what we read and whom we connect with online. People are getting more information from personalized sources -- say, Facebook. But Facebook, among others, operates a filter bubble that connects us with, as Pariser called it, "stuff we live." Therefore, the more efficient these personalization filters are, the less likely we are to be exposed to new ideas. Or people we don't agree with.

So what do we do about this?

Part of the responsibility, Pariser argued, lies on companies like Facebook and Google. They need to be transparent about the data they collect and what they know about us. As Pariser addressed the crowd, Noah Kunin and Jake Brewer of the Sunlight Foundation tweeted: "I'd love buttons on Google and FB that let me scale personalization."

And we the online masses -- each one of us -- play a role, Pariser added. "As more and more of our society runs on code, we need to get rid of the idea that codes don't care about anything. Codes are written by people," he said. "And we need to start thinking creatively about how to bring heterogeneity in our filtered lives."

Addendum: I profiled Pariser for the Washington Post weeks before the 2008 election.

THURS, JUNE 3, 9:40 A.M.

A titan meets an emerging titan: A man who changed history by leaking the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, on stage here in midtown Manhattan at CUNY's Graduate Center, chats with Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, via Skype, of course. The topic? Whistleblowing 2.0.

In early May, Wikileaks released a classified video showing an American Apache helicopter killing 12 civilians in Baghdad. Inevitably, the video spread like wildfire online, prompting all sorts of questions such as: What if Ellsberg had Twitter, YouTube and Google in 1971? How would the U.S. military analyst released the papers?

"I would have gotten a scanner and put them on the Internet," Ellsberg told Noam Cohen of the New York Times.

Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation tweeted at the start of the video chat: "Call this the courageous panel at #pdf10. Assange and Ellsberg"


THURS, JUNE 3, 9:40 A.M.

Follow live tweets in our Twitter page, with speakers, attendees and bloggers. And live video. Check out the PdF 2010 Live Twitter Page.

THURS, JUNE 3, 8 A.M.:

Can the Internet fix politics?

That's the overarching theme of this year's Personal Democracy Forum, aka PdF, the two-day confab that's become the largest and most important gathering of tech political thinkers. Forget CPAC. Never mind the DLC. PdF serves as the quintessential hub of examining where politics is headed in our tech-centric, increasingly mobile, socially connected 21st century. As we've consistently argued here at HuffPost Tech, technology in general and the Internet in particular -- the here-comes-everybody Web, as Clay Shirky, a PdF regular, calls it -- is irrevocably changing our relationship with politics, and therefore how we see ourselves.

Attendees at this year's event include political operatives from both sides of the aisle; high-ranking government bureaucrats like Aneesh Chopra, the country's first chief technology officer; and tech political luminaries such as Craig Newmark, the Craig of Craigslist, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and Ellen Miller, head of the non-profit and non-partisan Sunlight Foundation, which calls for government accountability and transparency through technology.

In an exclusive blog for HuffPost Tech, PdF co-founders Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry write: "While we all agree the Internet is changing politics, can it fix politics too? Can it make politics more open, participatory, responsive and accountable?"

Newmark, ever the optimist, thinks it can. As he noted in his blog this morning, online folks are doing just that, or at least trying to. But the problem is, as Newmark sees it,"extreme voices drown out moderate voices" online. Which brings us to this point: The question of "Can the Internet fix politics?" leads us to ask, even more consequently, "Can people who use the Internet fix politics?"

This is PdF's seventh year, which means that in the still evolving history of Web 2.0, PdF is a grown-up. Let's look back, yet again, to the decade's top moments in tech and politics here in the U.S.

The Social Web, Insurgent Candidates and Rallying the Base

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   May 18, 2010    2:45 PM ET

Does the social Web -- the blogging, tweeting, Facebooking Internet -- work better for insurgent candidates?

The answer, of course, is not that simple. Yes, the here-comes-everybody, let's-crash-the-gates nature of social networking lends itself more easily to insurgent candidates. The relatively unknown Barack Obama effectively leveraged the social web in his 2008 campaign against establishment candidates Hillary Clinton and John McCain. That was also the strategy behind Scott Brown's campaign against Martha Coakley in last year's Massachusetts senate race. And, in a way, this is the kind of energy that insurgent Rep. Joe Sestak may benefit from in his primary challenge against the establishment candidate, Sen. Arlen Specter. If the short and still evolving history of online politics is any guide, Sestak will beat Specter tonight.

"Storming the castle is usually more energizing than governing it, so it is no surprise that we see the Web having so much impact for insurgent campaigns," Jon Henke, a conservative blogger who writes for The Next Right, wrote me in an e-mail message. "The more enthusiastic a community is, the more useful the Web can be for them."

All political eyes are focused on just three primary races today: Sestak v. Specter in Pennsylvania; Rand Paul v. Trey Grayson in Kentucky; and Sen. Blanche Lincoln v. Lt. Gov. Bill Halter in Arkansas. And because of the social Web, everyone from around the country who side with the insurgent candidates have the upper hand. That's why, for example, the 47-year-old Paul -- a Fox News regular, tea party favorite and son of Rep. Ron Paul -- have some 33,000 fans on his official Facebook page as of Monday afternoon. Grayson, on the other hand, have around 5,800.

At bottom, primaries are a numbers game. Not many voters turn out. This is why, more so than general elections, turning out their engaged, impassioned base can make all the difference for insurgent candidates. Said Peter Greenberger, head of industry relations at Google: "An undecided or apathetic voter is unlikely to follow a candidate on Twitter or friend her on Facebook. And primaries/specials usually end up attracting a higher percentage of base voters (and a lower turnout)."

But technology, of course, is only a tool. All the grassroots, online-powered support do not necessarily translate to votes. As Colin Delany of pointed out, the social Web is "no magic bullet." He added: " You still have to have the right candidate with the right message at the right moment. Otherwise, Ron Paul would be president right now."

The Online Fight to Define Elena Kagan (VIDEO)

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   May 10, 2010    3:36 PM ET

And so it begins -- the online war to define Elena Kagan, whom President Obama nominated early Monday to be the 112th justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

She is not the first SCOTUS nominee to be vetted by the online public in our blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, YouTubing times. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic on the court, carried that distinction. But the Obama of July 2009, when Sotomayor was nominated, is not the Obama of 2010, when the president's polling numbers have significantly lowered and Democrats have lost their "super-majority" in the Senate. In other words, Kagan's confirmation is not as definite as Sotomayor's. The GOP, especially Senate Republicans, will take advantage of that.

Enter the YouTube channel called RepublicanSCOTUS, which was created last month and features video clips of Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The channel currently has 10 videos. Expect more to be added as pundits and pols line the cable shows. Already Kagan is a trending topic on Twitter, and will be for days to come. Facebook groups will inevitably be created. And we'll see what kinds of videos YouTubers in particular -- and the online masses in general -- will post relating to Kagan.

On a related note, we wonder, is Kagan YouTube-friendly? In a video clip making the rounds, Kagan is an advocate of allowing cameras inside the Supreme Court. Is Kagan also in favor of allowing hearings to be streamed live online, as we've argued in this space?

WATCH: Not Everyone Has The iPad Spirit

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   April 6, 2010    7:44 AM ET

Judging from the hype that preceded its arrival -- the cover of Time magazine! and Newsweek! endless chatter from media folks looking for a Messiah to technophiles anxious to get their hands on the latest gadget -- you'd think everyone was clamoring for an iPad.

Well, not quite. On Sunday -- a full day after the iPad landed in stores, and before news outlets reported that more than 300,000 iPads were sold -- we spent a couple of hours in Union Square in New York City, where, within a three mile radius, three Apple stores are located. Inevitably, we found some people, a few of them loyal Apple fans, who were not quite sold on the iPad.

Memo to Media -- iPad Won't Save News Industry

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   April 3, 2010    4:05 PM ET

What, you think the iPad hitting stores on Easter Weekend is a mere coincidence?

Nope. The media gods have conspired. Sure, the venerable Wired magazine would be all over it. And of course Laptop mag would hype the inevitable if not wholly simplistic "iPAD v. NETBOOK" war. But there's a reason why the iPad and Steve Jobs were on the cover of not just Time magazine ("Inside Steve's Pad") but also Newsweek, with this breathless, omniscient headline: "What's So Great About The iPad? Everything. How Steve Jobs Will Revolutionize Reading, Watching, Computing, Gaming -- And Silicon Valley." The iPad has the Obama touch. As the noted media columnist Howard Kurtz pointed out: "When was the last time that Time and Newsweek went with the same cover subject whose name wasn't Obama?"

The iPad-mania didn't stop there. The ever-sardonic Stephen Colbert played his part, teasing his studio audience with an Oprahesque: "Everyone look under your chair! Cuz everyone here tonight....gets a picture of me holding my iPad." In the past three months alone, the New York Times and the Washington Post, respectively, have written 80 stories and 23 stories containing the word "iPad."

For many of us in the mainstream media, the Messiah in the form of a tablet has arrived. The Resurrection will come with the help of a sleek, futuristic slate -- costing between $500 to $800 a pop (in a country still suffering from economic turmoil) with pre-order sales of some 250,000 (in a country of more than 300 million).

Or maybe not.

"What we're seeing is a desperate wish -- the last gasp of desperation. Editors and publishers and advertisers want to regain control of the media experience that the Internet took away from them. In their minds, this iPad is the magic pill that will make all of this Internet crap go away. Surely, it won't," Jeff Jarvis, the veteran journalist and author of What Would Google Do? told me in a phone interview. Upon reading that Time magazine is charging $5 a month for its iPad app, Jarvis tweeted Friday morning: "Mag iPad prices are delusional: In no form, even engraved in gold, is Time is worth $5/issue." Jarvis followed it up with this tweet, linking to a story in paidContent: "if Time's iPhone app is free & iPhone apps work on iPad, why would I pay $5 for an iPhone app? Naked newsmakers?"

Jarvis added: "What this is really about is control -- control of the experience. They want to regain the package. You bought the magazine. You read the news article. But the link -- the hyperlink, the way people consume media now -- broke that package apart, and there's no putting it back together."

The iPad-saving-the-media hype feeds an already running narrative, Jay Rosen, the influential media critic who writes the PressThink blog, told me.

"Before the iPad came into our sights, there was already a series of headlines and desperate passages: will ______save journalism? There's this search for the savior, and the belief that there is one," Rosen said.

To be fair, the salvation mentality is understandable. Uncertainty looms like a black cloud for media companies. The pricing model is up for grabs, the formatting is up for grabs, the relationship between advertising and editorial content is up for grabs. Lee Rainie, a former newspaper journalist and the founding director of Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, told me: "There's clearly a hope that with the right device, and the right format, that both revenue streams that have sustained newspapers and magazines for decades -- the subscription side, and the advertising side -- will be helped by this new tech gadget."

But as we've noted before in this blog, it's not just about the gadget, it's about the content. Or, more specifically, how the content adapts and evolves in our blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, YouTubing times. Yes, the so-called legacy media companies (print, television, radio) create content -- informative, valuable content, many of it crucial to our democracy. But, for the most part, they fail to realize how their content fits in a larger news ecosystem, one that's being increasingly driven not just by the select few who create the news but the online masses who consume it. And then want to engage with it, question it or tweak it, pass it around, and make it their own.

"The Internet provides the means for communities to share what they know. At no cost. The marginal cost of sharing information is zero," Jarvis said. "We as journalists then have to ask how we add value to that."

We're living in a transition stage -- a very exciting time in which the "me" in "media" continually and more effectively flexes its muscles. The media's resurrection depends on its understanding of that reality. Not on the shiny new iPad.

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Chris Hughes's Act III --, A Social Platform For Global Volunteerism

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   March 18, 2010    6:26 AM ET


Chris Hughes, all of 26, has been looking for his Act III.

Act I was co-founding Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, his roommate at Harvard. Act II was taking a leave from the social networking behemoth and joining Barack Obama's presidential campaign, where the fresh-faced Southerner from Hickory, N.C. became part of an A-list new media team. There, he served as the architect of -- or MyBO, the most successful network of volunteers and grassroots army that American presidential campaigning had ever seen.

And Act III? "I knew I wanted to do something at the nexus of what I call global development and technology," Hughes told HuffPost Tech in a phone interview yesterday. "By global development, I'm talking about a broad umbrella -- health care, agriculture, education. I just knew I wanted to do something in that space, and I spent the last year traveling" (in countries such has Kenya and Senegal, which he fell in love with) "and talking to people" (like Jeff Sachs, the prominent economist at Columbia University who's been named one of the "100 Most Influential People In The World" by Time magazine -- twice). Hughes added:" I spent the past year researching, studying, learning everything I could in the space."

Today, he announced the "soft launch" of Jumo -- which, in the African language of Yoruba, translates to "together in concert." Think of the site as philanthropy, volunteerism and social networking all rolled into one. It's a platform that will connect people and organizations around the world, and Hughes is arguably the most well-known tech entrepreneur to enter the still evolving global space. Currently just a few pages, the site will launch fully in the fall, sometime between September and October.

In an e-mail blast early this morning, Hughes wrote:

I just wanted to let you know about my new startup called Jumo. We're announcing today that we're building an online platform to connect individuals and organizations working to change the world.

We believe we can leverage the participatory web to foster long-term engagement with the issues and organizations that are relevant to each individual. Jumo has the potential to unlock a great deal of time, skills, and financial resources previously unavailable to organizations around the world.

When you get a second, take a look.

We'll be launching the site with full capabilities this fall, but I wanted to let you know that we're officially getting underway. If you know anyone who may be interested in working with us, please send them our jobs page to get in contact with us.

Talk to you soon,


P.S. I'd love for you to forward this email to friends, become our fan on Facebook , and let your friends on Twitter know. The more people that know about what we're doing, the stronger the team we'll be able to build.

Note how the e-mail was signed -- simply, "Chris." Perfectly informal, perfectly Hughes. His former colleagues from the Obama campaign aren't at all surprised by his big move. "After the campaign, all of us wanted to know how we can keep this movement going," Kate Albright-Hanna, who headed the campaign's video team, said in a phone interview. "It makes sense that Chris would figure it out and create something concrete. And new."

As it stands, the non-profit, non-partisan organization has a staff of three -- and that includes Hughes, who says he's looking to hire more people in Jumo's office space in New York's trendy SoHo neighborhood. Hughes has raised $500,000 from foundations and individuals -- with more to come. For months, he kept the creation for Jumo under wraps, telling just a few friends about it, including Zuckerberg. Though he will remain involved with Facebook "at the general level," he said, his primary focus is on the start-up.

And if there's one underlying principle behind the whole new venture, he continued, it's this: one-on-one personal connection on an interest-level basis. Your interest, your time, your money, match with what's needed anywhere in the world. On Jumo, you can find a small African group paying women to distribute condoms in their neighborhoods. Or a group organizing recreational activities in the slums of Mumbai. Or a group like Vittana (voted as a HuffPost Game Changer last year), a micro-financing service for students who can't afford to go college in countries such as Nicaragua and Vietnam.

"Too often, when people think about helping the world, they think of a photo of a hungry, malnourished African kid, send $10 and call it a day," Hughes told me. "That's the old model. There are lot of people across America and in other countries who want to help, and I would argue that the Internet has not caught up with them. So the goal for us is to build a central place where individuals can come in and discover and organization or an issue that's personally relevant to them. And then connect."

In a way, Jumo is akin to Facebook, in that the social networking site does not create content but instead enables users to share their content and then organizes it.

But Jumo, Hughes said, is not like Facebook Causes -- the Facebook application founded in 2007 that allows users to create grassroots groups in support of issues. For Hughes, users must first discover a cause, then develop a relationship with the organization before giving money and/or time. "I think Facebook Causes has blazed the trail, but Causes, in my view, comes at very end of the donor experience."

The idea for Jumo was crystallized in his mind while sitting on the roof of a hostel in Saint-Louis, Senegal last April, right before sunset, watching the various people doing so many things. Getting water. Carrying wood. Tending to the kids. It wasn't exactly a "Eureka moment," he recalled, but it was the moment he understood the scope of what needed to be done. No single group, no single person, no single non-profit is going to do everything. Hughes said: "I've been fortunate, being able to sit on that roof, and we have to make sure that that we can enable people to be on that roof, to be able to find that individual in the midst of that big crowd of people who they connect and support."

He expects that at least "a few hundred organizations" will be listed and organized on Jumo come fall.

"There are some social ventures right now, like Engineers Without Borders and Scientists Without Borders, both modeled after Doctors Without Borders," Sachs, who's traveling in Japan, said in a phone interview. "But given Chris's huge talent in this social networking area, his venture, I think, will be unique. Jumo could be truly linking volunteers and donors with organizations, or it could be that feelers are going to come out of the villages themselves and seek help and partnerships. Technology, as we know, has made the world smaller, and I think we're going to find that lots of new connections will be made."

Added Morley Winograd, a former senior policy adviser to Vice President Al Gore and co-author of the groundbreaking and prescient book "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics": "In a way, this new social networking site is a natural extension of what Hughes did during the campaign: connect people by their interests and make them care about issues, all supported by technology. And I think this also speaks to the fact that Hughes is a member of the Millennial generation that cares a lot about volunteerism. Many members of this generation choose activities with a social purpose in mind."

Happy 25th Birthday,!

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   March 15, 2010    5:58 AM ET

Technology moves so fast that history, too often, gets buried in the digital dustbin. Was it just last month that Facebook celebrated its 6th birthday? Just a few days ago that Twitter marked its 10 billionth tweet?

But March 15, ladies and gents, is too special a day to let us pass by. March 15, as it happens, is the 25th birthday of the revolutionary Yep, the big 2-5. Imagine business, technology and innovation without .com. . . news, media and government without it. . . and and without those three tiny fragments. Sure, is not the only online destination, now joined by the rise of URLs that include the likes of .me, .ly and .xxx. Still, its long-lasting impact is hard too overstate. As the celebratory site points out: "1985's most lasting contribution turned out to be three letters and a punctuation mark."

There are some 84 million .com domains today -- 11.9 million are business and e-commerce sites, 4.3 million are entertainment-oriented, 3.1 million are finance-related and 1.8 million are all about sports. Business. Entertainment. Sports. Clearly, is really about in general -- and how our lives have changed because of it. According to a survey conducted by Zogby International, to be released by VeriSign, the operator of .com, in time for today's milestone, 81 percent of Americans visit 5 or more .com sites a day. And many visit more than that.

The growth of .com, it must be noted, did not come quickly. Only five companies followed the footsteps of the Cambridge-based computer manufacturer Symbolics, Inc. when it registered the first .com on March 15, 1985. By the late 1980s, about 100 .coms existed, which included now tech powerhouses IBM, Intel, AT&T and Cisco. It wasn't until 12 years later, in 1997, a year after President Clinton signed the landmark 1996 Telecommunications Act, that .com names passed the 1 million mark.

And it's been growing since. So much so, in fact, that back in 1995, VeriSign handled 18 billion queries. These days, VeriSign handles that same amount of queries in 8 hours.

This is an especially big week for the Internet -- where it was just 25 years ago; where it stands now, in our social media-driven world; and where it will be and where it needs to be in future.

Marking's silver anniversary, VeriSign will host a small, exclusive, day-long policy forum in Washington, D.C. tomorrow, headlined by President Clinton. The president will deliver a keynote speech on how the Internet has ushered the era of global connectedness -- what we here at HuffPost Tech call the birth of online global citizenship. On the same day, Julius Genachowski, the blog-friendly chairman of the Federal Communication Commission, will release its ambitious and anxiously awaited National Broadband Plan, a comprehensive road-map for bringing fast, affordable high speed Internet access to all Americans. It's high-time we think of our Internet infrastructure in the same way we thought of the Interstate highways in the last century. And on Thursday, the all-important and underrated Sunlight Foundation, which has championed online transparency in government, will launch a national, non-partisan campaign for real-time transparent government.

That's a movement everyone can and will get behind -- as we sit at home and at work, perhaps just on our cell phones, browsing our dot.coms.

Internet's Future in America -- You Must Play A Role in Crafting It

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   March 10, 2010    3:48 PM ET

What is the future of the Internet in America?

How do we close the digital divide that leaves some 35 percent of American households without broadband access? Should we follow Finland's lead, which made a one-megabit broadband connection a legal right for its 5 million citizens last fall? What is the role of technology in our schools? Like shelter, like food, like books, is an Internet-connected laptop a necessity for every American student?

These are just some of the questions that HuffPost Tech readers -- yes, you -- can ask Julius Genachowski, the blog-friendly chairman of the Federal Communication Commission. On Tuesday, FCC will release its much-discussed (and much-blogged about) National Broadband Plan, a comprehensive road-map for bringing fast, affordable high speed Internet access to all Americans. (You can read details of FCC's plan on And following its historic, laudable efforts to bring governance closer to the online masses, YouTube's CitizenTube channel is allowing users to upload short video questions to Genachowski. Deadline for submission is Sunday, March 14, at 11:59 p.m. PT.

You can ask questions about security and privacy, Internet in schools and network neutrality, among other topics. YouTube asks that videos be 20 seconds or less. You can vote on your favorite videos on CitizenTube, and Steve Grove, head of news and politics at YouTube, will ask a few of your top-voted questions during his video interview with Genachowski on Tuesday.

So think, record a video and submit your question.

We all must play a role in developing the Internet's future.

It's a Mac's, Mac's, Mac's World -- So Who Needs Macworld? (VIDEO)

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   February 9, 2010    1:11 PM ET

What, exactly, is the need for a yearly Macworld confab?

Produced by the all-Apple, all-the-time magazine, the Macworld Conference & Expo is a five-day conference that begins Tuesday in San Francisco. It's in 25th year, with the first Macworld dating back to 1985. It's part trade show, part customer circus and altogether undeniably, shamelessly Machead central. For some time, two Macworlds were held each year -- the first in San Francisco, the second in Boston and later in New York. As the video below proves, it's for die-hard Apple enthusiasts, the kind of iCustomers that flood tech blogs whenever the latest iSomething hits Apple stores, scattered across 41 U.S. states.

Inevitably, the presence of Apple stores -- nearly 300 around the world, most of them here America -- has diluted the meaning and purpose of a carefully choreographed Macworld gathering. Apple itself agrees. This is the first year that the Cupertino-based Apple, whose headquarters is just a few miles south of San Francisco, is not participating.

In a statement explaining its decision, the company said last year: "Apple is reaching more people in more ways than ever before, so like many companies, trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers."

Who needs a yearly Macworld in San Francisco when, as the release of the iPad last month showed, we're living in bigger, non-stop Mac world? Though a product like Mac OS X, Apple's operating system, has a market share of only 10 percent or so, it's almost impossible think about music in digital-driven the 21st century without iTunes and the iPod. Increasingly, Steve Jobs' Apple is leading the way in marketing and catering to the need of mainstream digital customers who lead portable, app-obsessed lives. Think iPhone. Think iPad. And through its Apple stores -- and, just as important, through its own web site -- Apple reaches and educates its customers.

"Macworld comes to you -- that's Apple's strategy now," Peter Hirshberg, co-founder of the marketing agency The Conversation Group, told HuffPostTech. Hirshberg should know. For nine years, he led a group called Enterprise Marketing at Apple. "Through the Internet and through the Apple stores, Apple expands its brand."

Are you currently at Macworld? What are the highlights for you so far? If you're a Machead and don't see the point of the yearly confab, tell us why. Comment below.

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The Web Wants To Know: Where Are The 4,000 Missing Americans In Haiti?

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   January 30, 2010    5:12 PM ET

"Why are we not in shock that 4000 US citizens are missing in Haiti? Why is this story underreported?"

That was the message Andrew Rasiej tweeted his followers Friday night. He was watching a quick news report that mentioned the 4,000 statistic while riding a cab; segments from the local ABC News affiliate are played inside cabs here in New York City. He searched and searched for more stories on missing Americans online but couldn't find any.

"If 4,000 Americans were under the rubble in some American city, people in the U.S. would be up in arms," Rasiej told HuffPostTech in a phone interview. Founder of the annual tech/pol conference Personal Democracy Forum, he's one of the foremost thinkers in the intersection of tech and politics. A few weeks ago, Rasiej attended a small dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that included the likes of Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

"A lot of questions need be to asked," Rasiej continued. "Is this being under-reported because it's too painful? Is it because of racism? Is it because of lack of information?"

For the record, 2,973 victims and 19 hijackers died from the Sept. 11th attacks. So far, more than 170,000 Haitians have died from the earthquake, and the death toll is estimated to reach as high as 200,000. According to reports, at least 1 million are homeless.

Nearly three weeks after Haiti's devastating earthquake, the U.S. State Department is still looking for 4,000 American citizens. Many of them might have died, some perhaps still missing, others may have been already found. During past natural disasters such as the Indonesian tsunami, relatives of missing Americans contacted the State Department to report their missing loved ones. Once the missing were found, however, some relatives did not call back to update the State Department of their status. That may be the case for some of the missing American citizens in Haiti. But only some.

Laura Tischler, a State Department spokesperson, would not speculate on the status of the 4,000 missing Americans.

"The U.S. government is doing everything possible to identify and locate American citizens who were victims," Tischler said in a phone interview. "We will work to account for every single U.S. citizen reported missing until every possibility is exhausted. And we know this process will continue for months."

The Web is flat. Online, using social media, we've become each other's witnesses -- both in spreading the news of the Haitian earthquake and in responding to the tremendous need. It's the emergence of global citizen 1.0. Imagine how much longer it would have taken to raise funds for Haiti without the use of text messaging. And social media is still focused on Haiti. As Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism reported last Thursday, Twitter and YouTube users are still spreading news on the ravaged and reeling nation. Since the earthquake hit on Jan. 12, #Haiti has been a top trending topic on Twitter.

"Twitter allows people to state what concerns them most, and then it makes it easy to aggregate those concerns. In many ways, it's more effective them blogs in focusing attention on the problem."

Rasiej should know. His tweet about Haiti Friday night ended with "Please RT."

And Twitterers have.

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